Accountability v Responsibility?

A dear friend asked me to comment on the difference between accountability and responsibility.

Given we both work for a German firm, it’s an interesting question.

In German
Accountable = Verantwortlich
Responsible = Verantwortlich

So you can see our problem.

In English its not much better, if you check on line, quite often, the definitions are interchangeable.

For me the difference is clear and I always try to communicate my definition to the entire organization, so it’s clear to them what I expect.

Responsible means that you are involved, possibly performing a clearly defined task, and your performance could determine a successful outcome.

Accountable means that its up to you to ensure that there will be a successful outcome. Even though you might not actually be performing any of the tasks involved.

Let’s look at soccer as an example.

The players are responsible, for the passing, tackling, attacking, defending and scoring of the goals that will determine who wins the game.

The manager is accountable for result.

If the team loses he is the one who will need to explain why to his bosses, and will possibly suffer the consequences after a string of poor results.

Many people say that’s its unfair, as the manager doesn’t kick a single ball.

However, it is the manager who selected the players, trained the players, decided the tactics, provided the motivation and game plan, was able to make the changes to players and tactics as the match unfolds.

We can delegate responsibility for tasks, but we cannot delegate accountability.

If we start to try delegate accountability, this is usually as a result of a failure, at which point we are looking for someone to blame for that failure.

As Leaders it’s always our job to ensure success.